Wanted: A house

We just had one of the most delightful posts I’d like to share. It was an ask for a house.

Some background.

Elly was interviewing DeMarcus Preston about a bike ride that he organized against gang violence. Here’s a photo: 

During the interview Elly discovered some unintended consequences of Portland’s gentrification (thanks, in some part, to the many tech jobs created in the city). “’As people get displaced from inner and North Portland, [the gangs] moving east,’ DeMarcus said. It used to be that everyone had their territories pretty well sorted out, but now it’s common to have people from three different gangs living in the same block and running into each other at the convenience store.” DeMarcus says the gang violence he’s seeing is as bad as it was in the 1980s. 

Here’s the problem: “There is no safe house where people who want to leave their gang (apparently that’s a whole lot of people, some with regrets, others who were forced to join in the first place) can go to get on a new path.”

Clearly, what is needed is a house. “So, who’s in?,” writes Elly. “Got a house? Got money? Got part of the money? There are a lot of amazing things happening in Portland right now and the price of those things does not have to be violence. We can all succeed together.” 

Now it happened that that day I had a meeting at City Hall with Jillian Detweiler, the policy director for Mayor Charlie Hales.


I showed Jillian the post. I’ll admit that it felt kind of Pollyanna-ish…to hope that a government official would care or take the time to respond. She read it over, paused, and said, “Well, you can’t win the lottery if you don’t buy a ticket.” And this, really, is the essence of Switchboard, and what Jillian pick up on immediately. It is impossible to know what is possible until you ask. Jillian then created an account…

…and forwarded Elly’s post to Antoinette Edwards, the Director of Youth Violence Prevention, and then took the time to comment and reply to Elly. 

Here’s her comment:

And Elly’s response: 

@marazepeda @MayorPDX jawdrop

— Elly Blue (@ellyblue)

November 7, 2014

There was another response from Chris over at the Portland Development Commission. 

Look: I know what you’re thinking. There are probably three ways this could go. Maybe, through some act of grace, charity, or bureaucratic wrangling, DeMarcus will get the house he dreams of to rehabilitate former gang members. Elly will report a success, and this post will embody what is possible when are vulnerable and courageous enough to ask for what we need and have our community respond. Perhaps it will be determined that there simply isn’t the capacity, or the necessary paperwork isn’t up to snuff, and it will die as so many things do, when minutiae overwhelm any possibility of the miraculous. Or maybe nothing will happen at all. Just another citizen with good intentions.

I don’t know what the outcome is, but I promise we’ll keep you updated. But DeMarcus telling Elly telling Jillian telling Antoinette, in under 24 hours, is, as far as I can tell, evidence that something on Switchboard is working. Quite simply: the connecting cables are in motion, and the right connections were made.

If you didn’t grow up in a Sardinian mountain village you have to make your own

The other day I came on this NPR story, which led me to this book, The Village Effect: How Face-to-Face Contact Can Make us Healthier, Happier, and Smarter. This idea, that human contact powers the world, is nothing new to us here Switchboard HQ. I’d say 75% of the interactions facilitated on Switchboard happen in real life, from farmers finding customersto people meeting over coffee to talk about non-traditional paths to tech careers

I’ve highlighted nearly the entire book, but I wanted to share this passage. Pinker writes: “This book has shown that intimate contact is a basic human need. Indeed, most of us not born in Sardinian mountain villages still hanker for the feeling of belonging…that these villages bestow.” She goes on to quote American historian Christopher Lasch who had this to say about the social contract in the ’90s, soon after the word “cyberspace” came on the scene.

"We wanted our children to grown up in a kind of extended family, or at least with an abundance of ‘significant others.’ A house full of people; a crowded table ranging across the generations; four-hand music at the piano; nonstop conversation and cooking; baseball games and swimming in the afternoon; long walks after dinner; a poker game or Diplomacy or charades in the evening, all these activities mixing adults and children—that was our idea of a well-ordered household and more specifically a well-ordered education…Home was not to be thought of as the nuclear family.” 

We’ve seen at Switchboard that we cobble together these extended families with the people we trust. Over at the Switchboard for women cyclists Kassandra posted this ask for care package ideas after a member of her extended family was in a bike accident…

And here’s how it all resolved:

Melinda, a total stranger until this “village” was created, offers to lend a hand:

At Switchboard we’re interested in making it easier for these villages of significant others can gather online so we can reunite at the dinner table, the piano, or the bedside of a friend in need. The internet shouldn’t feel like home, but it should make home easier to find. 

Josie Finds Interviewees on the Wheelwomen Switchboard

The Wheelwomen Switchboard is a Switchboard for cyclists who identify as women nationwide. (You can read more about it in the Oregonian and BikePortland.) Since its inception, dozens of wheelwomen have posted asks and offers, and logged successes. This is just one of those success stories.

Josie posted an Ask on the Wheelwomen Switchboard a few weeks ago looking for people to interview for her blog, Life on Two Wheels. Josie uses her blog to chronicle her own adventures in the bike world, but also as a place for other cyclists to share their experiences. “My hope is that the stories will inspire others to get on a bike,” Josie says.

Josie’s Ask has led to two interviews with other wheelwomen so far: Emily, from Marin County, California, and Whitney from Seattle.

Josie says that the Wheelwomen Switchboard makes it easy for her not just to interact with other like-minded wheelwomen, but to inspire members of the community in turn. “I’m somewhat shy in real life, but online I’m much more outgoing,” she says. “It’s been very positive to ‘meet’ new people and make new friends. The stories that I’ll be sharing (and have shared) are really great and I hope will inspire other people as much as they have inspired me.”

For Josie, Switchboard’s strengths are its simplicity, its scope, and its ability to bring members of a loosely connected community together. “It was easy to step into and use. Not only getting responses but finding other topics to chime in on,” Josie says. The Wheelwomen community is spread out across the country and bound together only by its members’ mutual love of biking. Switchboard gives its members a place to connect in collaborative, meaningful ways. “The bike riding community isn’t just in ‘one town’ but it’s all over. Everyone has something they can bring to the table and share!”